We love organic foods for a variety of reasons. Organic crops are raised on organic farms. They’re non-GMO. Farming methods are different — and better. Organic food products contain better ingredients. Most don’t contain controversial items. Not to mention, we can easily pronounce most of the items contained in the ingredient list. Overall, a much better concept for our healthy lifestyles. A while back, though there were studies that claimed that no increased nutritional benefits were found from organic food consumption vs. non-organic.
The debate has been raging for years, does organic food have any actual nutritional benefit over non-organic? For a long time, science couldn’t find a conclusive answer. However, a review of earlier studies may have found something that got missed. This review found that organic fruit, vegetables, and grain have a substantially higher level of antioxidants than conventional produce, and a lower level of pesticides.
Carlo Leifert, professor of ecological agriculture at Newcastle University in England and led the research, said, “It shows very clearly how you grow your food has an impact. If you buy organic fruits and vegetables, you can be sure you have, on average, a higher amount of antioxidants at the same calorie level.”
The full study stops just short of making the claim organic produce leads to better health and will be published in next week in the British Journal of Nutrition.
Of this, Leifert said, “We are not making health claims based on this study, because we can’t. [The study is insufficient] to say organic food is definitely healthier for you, and it doesn’t tell you anything about how much of a health impact switching to organic food could have.”
However, the authors of the research, so point out that other studies have suggested that antioxidants have been linked to lower risks of cancer and other disease. These findings are the opposite of a similar study done by Stanford scientists two years ago. That research found few differences in nutritional content of conventionally and organically grown food. They concluded that the small differences they did find were not likely to have any influence on the health of consumers who chose organic, which is usually significantly more expensive.
The Stanford study confirmed the pesticide findings in this new research, finding that the level of pesticide residue are several times higher for conventionally grown produce but this research said the findings were of little significance since all the levels were mostly below safety limits.
For the most part, organic farming eliminates all conventional pesticides and chemical fertilizers. These growing practices mean healthier soil but often produce less at harvest. The Organic Trade Association estimates organic food sales in the United States in 2013 were $32.3 billion, just 4% of the total market.
The debate over whether organic produce has more nutritional value has been hotly contested, naysayers insisting that organic is just a marketing ploy so that companies can charge more.
Alan D. Dangour, a researcher for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, “The other argument would be, if you just eat a little bit more fruits and vegetables, you’re going to get more nutrients.” Dangour was the leader of a published review in 2009 that stated no nutritional differences of any significance between organic and conventional produce.
Sometimes, it is difficult to quantify these kinds of differences since the factors can vary widely from different places where the food is grown, or even year to year. Differences in things like weather can influence the nutrients found in food. But, even if the differences do exist, it would be difficult to determine what, if any, effect they would have on consumer health.
In the new research, the international team of scientists didn’t conduct any field work or laboratory work of their own. They compiled information from 343 previous studies and performed a meta-analysis to try and find out significant pieces of information. Some of the studies included recorded many different measurements while other only had a handful. Some looked at a few samples of food and others looked at food samples over several years. If properly done, the meta-analysis can produce greater information than the average of the included studies.
Overall, for all studies, organic crops were found to contain 17% more antioxidants than conventional crops. For some kinds of antioxidants, the different was even greater. For example, flavanones were 69% higher in organic produce. For some compounds, very high levels can be harmful but the organic produce was well below these levels.
The research also found that organic grains have lower levels of cadmium, a toxic metal that can sometimes contaminate fertilizers. There was no other differences in other toxic metals such as lead or mercury.
Even with the differences, it is leading to questions from the scientific community over why it matters. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, said, “After that, everything is speculative. It’s a really hard question to answer.”
Nestle indicated that she mainly buys organic to avoid pesticides and its benefit to the environment. She states that if they are more nutritious, great but it is hard to say how significant that bonus is.
FoodFacts.com understands that right now the nutritional benefits of organic food may be difficult to quantify. We’re also fairly sure that the benefits reviewed here are a plus for our health, even if they can’t currently be gaged. So while the arguments may rage on, we’re still certain we know what we’d rather be eating. We hope that everyone else is too.